Music & Sound Retailer September 2021, Vol 38 No 9

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V E D D AT O R I A L

NEWS OF OUR DEMISE IS PREMATURE By Dan Vedda

I always shake my head when I hear someone say, “[insert once-ubiquitous item here] is dead.” Why? Well, in our industry alone over the last few decades, I’ve heard predictions of the demise of the acoustic drumset (how’s that going, Simmons?), the death of the acoustic guitar (a store I worked in during the ‘80s discontinued them as “no longer needed”), the utter dominance of the DJ market ending live music (DJing is strong, but so still is live performance), and the permanent replacement of electric guitar with synthesizers (it’s been predicted for about 50 years, but it hasn’t happened yet). However, rather than going the way of “Flock of Seagulls” hairstyles, these supposedly doomed market segments not only survived, but are bigger than before. No matter what the style mavens predict, the Will of the People tends to determine the outcome. More recently, vinyl, the pivotal audio format of the Baby Boomer generation, resurfaced as a hip, trendy and of course sonically superior alternative to the digitally mashed sound of the MP3s that a lot of kids now reaching adulthood grew up on. While I don’t expect the reanimated corpse of Tower Records to resurface (never say never), it’s reasonable to assume that vinyl is more than just fashionable, because there

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are merits to the format, and a generation that embraces it in their nostalgia-formative years will carry it with them as they grow older. Sure, vinyl is more likely to be a “gourmet” format than a fixture in the bedroom of every American teen like it once was, but it ain’t dead, folks. I always adopt a wait-and-see attitude toward the “inevitable” obsolescence of our pop-culture trappings. For example, I don’t believe books are dead, and any kid that grew up waiting for the next Harry Potter volume wouldn’t think so, either; they’ll always have a spot in their hearts for books. Plus, books work for decades without an upgrade, they never need charging, and they don’t disappear if you miss a subscription payment. While certainly there are examples of our cultural linchpins that no longer perform their original function in our daily lives (think of things like pay phones), many others have been refreshed or repurposed. For example, the pandemic helped reboot the almost extinct drive-in movie (albeit in an upgraded form) and energized carhop-style restaurants like Sonic and Swenson’s. They’re no longer just a nostalgia trip, they’re “pandemic adapted.” This reinvigoration is actually a trend that started a few years back, but the appeal has been am-

plified by our year in lockdown. The backward-looking re-creation of old formats, artifacts or even business models actually has a name: “newstalgia.” It’s being embraced not only by people who remember it fondly, but by a fresh audience that responds to its throwback novelty and utility. Even Pizza Hut has jumped on the trend, turning back the clock on a subset of its dine-in restaurants to the '80s décor and format of the company’s earliest years. So recently, I was interested to read an Axios article by Erica Pandey, “The Pandemic-Induced Renaissance of Malls.” We all know malls are dead, right? It seems not, at least in some instances. The attraction of malls as public gathering places is on-trend: “A year and a half of isolation has reignited a desire to gather in public spaces — and spruced-up, futuristic malls could make billions off of a cooped-up America,” Pandey wrote. Am I suggesting that you move your store into a mall? Well, in some markets, there might be a progressive re-imagining of a mall with reasonable rents (thanks to the down market in retail real estate). Only you can say if it’s a viable option. But more to the point, let’s think about why these malls are set to attract people again and see what lessons we can learn from them. According to the article, the malls that thrive will offer much more than a cluster of retail stores. Attractive public space, special events, ancillary services and hyper-local content will drive the experience. The Axios piece quotes Michael Brown, a partner in consulting firm Kearney’s Consumer Products and Retail Practice: “There’s a long future for the malls who are doing it right. Malls need to be more than just a place to shop because frankly, we can just shop online,” he said. When you think about it, many music industry stores are already

doing a micro-version of this. We all know the importance of an attractive and inviting retail salesfloor, and plenty of us offer special events like performances, recitals, drum circles, uke nights and any number of other participatory musical experiences. Many offer the so-called ancillary services in the form of lessons and repairs, and perhaps even a snack bar or rehearsal space. Frankly, a local store, by definition, also has to be hyper-local. Tastes in music, specific demands of school programs, and local artists playing on the scene are all part of the little corner of the market where we hang our shingles. That local positioning is crucial, according to a recent National League of Cities report on the future of retail: “The flexibility of shopping from the location most convenient for the customer will remain a primary driver of sales.” Woo! Again, so many of us are right in the neighborhood, poised for convenience. So being “in a mall,” while perhaps viable for some, isn’t the point. We need to be aware of what our customers — long-term and newly-minted — are looking for: convenience, engagement, variety, and a focus on the needs and interests of the surrounding community. In theory, we should have been doing all these things pre-pandemic, of course. It’s just good retail practice for any business trying to build goodwill and a loyal customer base. But our year of darkness, so to speak, has made the best practices obvious and crucial. Those of us in a brick-andmortar environment, particularly those of us without a strong online storefront, should be on notice. The way for us to survive is to focus on the will of the people. If we position ourselves to serve our customers — not just sell to them — we’ve got a chance to survive. And if we do this right (and with the right attitude), we have a chance to flourish. SEPTEMBER 2021


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